“Sorry, let’s stop” says Laura Mvula as she begins the ballad ‘She’, “I can hear lots of talking”. It seems old habits die hard for the Birmingham-born former school teacher, whose album Sing to the Moon is one of this year’s most critically celebrated. “This song is so quiet, you won’t hear the words. The band are freaking out but this is the last gig of the tour, and I hope it is as special for you as it is for me.” The second time around the audience are quietly respectful and she later thanks us for giving the song “space”.
Still, it’s impossible to feel reprimanded or even uncomfortable with such a charismatic performer. She chats, giggles and even manages to sing with a wide smile during the more uptempo tracks sitting behind her red keyboard. Earlier tracks like ‘The Morning Dew’ and new track ‘Let Me Fall’ are both received well by the crowd. The latter consisting of live violin, double bass and keys with a sound inspired by African rhythms.
‘Flying without You’, meanwhile, is accompanied by a story about its inspiration. She tells us that it was written when she 15 and it is about a boy who didn’t love her back. From anyone else, this would sound cheesy but Mvula somehow makes her interactions with the audience feel genuine, even endearing. During the dark, ethereal ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ the audience is invited to sing at appropriate parts of the song. With cinematic arrangements, jazz bass lines and dreamy harp melody, it is an unusual choice for a sing-a-long, but it makes sense when it morphs into Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’.
The crowd waving subsides with back-to-back ballads like ‘Sing to the Moon’, ‘Diamonds’ and the intimate ‘Father Father’, a track which her fans have an obvious connection to. This is a beautifully sparse, solo performance that is mostly sung acapella as she appears to have forgotten her own instrument, too swept away in the emotion of her own lyrics. It is stunning to watch and is a testament to the power of her vocals.
The gospel hand claps and 60’s soul inspired ‘Green Garden’ reinvigorate the audience making it a clear highlight of the night. Mvula’s encore comes all too quickly in the shape of the upbeat ‘That’s Alright’ and ‘You Can’t Make Me Lovely’.
For any new artist, touring with their debut album, it would difficult to stretch that into a concert’s worth of material and this gig is no exception. With Mvula on stage for only around an hour, the only criticism here is that it seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. For Laura Mvula, however, having a venue filled with people that are already eagerly awaiting her second album, can only mean great things are still to come.
Main image by Debbie Hickey, you can see more of her photos from the gig here.